By Lorraine Gibson-Alcock
I’m writing this story during the depths of winter, and as I look out the window my eyes see ice formations butting up against flowing water and our local Trumpeter swans not so silently gliding along the Crowe River north of Marmora. My mind drifts to remembering lazy summer days... no longer seeing swans on the river, but boats of all descriptions ranging from canoes to cabin cruisers traveling along our waterway. Along with that memory is the remembrance of the pounding wave action that has taken such a toll on our shoreline.
Most boaters are very considerate and visually control their wakes, therefore limiting the damage those waves can make. Unfortunately there are also boaters who have not been so aware... resulting in wakes that crash onto our riverfront neighbourhood waterway docks and shorelines so fast and furious that they have been seen to push waves up above the full height of our boat harbour... 12 feet in the air. All wave action, but especially the violent ones create serious damage to our shorelines. But don’t get me wrong, I love boats! The spring and summer months would be such a boring time without them... either playing with or watching them, it’s just those dangerous wakes that some boaters create that I find trouble-some.
But I digress... back to the matter at hand. When we moved onto our Crowe River waterfront property, we thought we had died and gone to heaven. A little more grass to cut... what else could be different? We were to find that there are differences between urban, rural and waterfront ownership. In addition to the usual maintenance concerns... windows and roof, and finding and maintaining your own rural water supply plus waste disposal via septic systems, waterfront property owners also have shorelines. Having seen this property in the summer before our final purchase, we knew that a new dock was required, and upon further investigation discovered that the existing timber frame shoreline enclosure would need repair. You see, when boats go past, the naturally occurring wake butts up against the hard frame and seeps in between the timbers, dislodging soil, and draining some out. Along with that the timbers above the water surface disintegrate over time; while the ones below the waterline remain perfectly fine protected by the water itself. So replacing the above timbers was one of our first priorities. This was well before the new provincial laws of 2006 changed the rules of shoreline development/protection. Prior to 2006, property owners could do almost anything to their shorelines without threat of fines. Over the years we have had to add more dirt behind the retaining wall to fill in all those nasty holes created by wakes. Now, after 15 years, we found the timbers above the waterline were rotting and disintegrating again. So what to do this time? Do we replace the damage or install a whole new different type of retaining wall?
After hearing stories about significant fines given to property owners, and after checking with our municipality, we knew our next stop was to see our local Crowe Valley Conservation Authority, (CVCA) Tim Piddick, General Manager, and Robert Cole, Regulations Officer for options. As Tim says, “we are here not to restrict, but to ensure there is the correct development in the right location. Our position as a regulator is to help the public and the environment, while at the same time protect the environment, property and human lives.
Initially, the process was quite simple. We followed all the directions that Tim and Robert gave us (found on the CVCA website). Then we had to make our decisions. Do we do the work ourselves or hire a specialist company? As we own a backhoe and had helpers available, we decided to do it ourselves. Now what type of retaining wall? Timber, small rocks, or large flat rocks, and from where could we source them. CVWA gives preference to bio-engineering with native plants or a “soft” natural product called that as it softens and absorbs the blow of the wave energy.
The preferred “soft” are natural products such as “rip rap” (large loose stones 6-8” diameter) or large flat stone blocks. Decisions made, application submitted, permit fees paid...now came the wait. During this period, the Waterway Conservation Authority, as part of the review process, usually make a site visit to ensure that the type of material selected matches the slope and contour of the property, ensuring the best wave action absorption. In our case, the CVCA has the final decision. We were told it would take several weeks to hear back, and it did.
A couple of our nearest neighbours decided that they also wanted to replace their existing structures, so all applications were submitted using the same process. Our own timeline for the actual work had to be moved back as we waited for all three approvals to come through. This way the entire length of the waterfront construction could be done at the same time. We thought this best to ensure access to each property for ease of accessibility of both labour and supply delivery. The coveted approvals came and then it was on to the actual physical work!
My husband Doug, on the back hoe, started removing the grass and dirt behind the original existing retaining wall(s), using a 3 to 1 slope calculation as per the permit requirements. Using this method, we would not be putting anything directly into the water, thereby eliminating the need for the “barrier method.” Once this was done and the correct slope achieved, the next step was to lay the heavy duty landscape fabric... “miles” of it! Measuring more than 420 feet, the total frontage of all three properties was installed, and then the “rip rap” stones were dumped on to this fabric, and manually pushed into place by our “crew,” Wilson, Dan and Jason. Only once this was completed, could the original retaining wall be removed, and the balance of the soil graded to look “pretty”! Sounds easy don’t it?
Not so... it was cold, and at times tough, wet manual labour and our helpers were terrific! The backhoe work had to be done when the soil was firm, so work began in December. With freeze up, then thaw, then freeze again, along with a little rain and snow thrown in, our front river yard became a mess with foot deep ruts caused by the back hoe tires. Fun you say?! But all good things must come to an end. Now with the rock retaining walls in place, CVCA’s Tim Piddick and Andrew McIntyre (Source Water Protection Specialist) came back for a visit to review and approve the work. Now all we need for the three properties to look beautiful again is luscious green grass! We cannot wait for the snow to melt and spring to arrive! Summer, boats and the circle of life flow on. Heaven!
For your project in Hastings County always check with your own municipality and conservation authority.
Crowe Valley Conservation Authority ...................... http://www.crowevalley.com
Lower Trent Conservation.......................................... http://www.ltc.on.ca/
Quinte Conservation................................................... http://www.quinteconservation.ca/